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4 For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.


The first two verses give the theological reasons for obeying government. Verses three and four give practical reasons for accepting the authority of the state. One purpose of government is to control law-breakers and another is to provide order for society.

4 For he is God’s minister to you for good.

Civil leaders are God’s ministers. The Greek emphasizes the word “God’s,” stressing the idea that civil leaders clearly operate under God’s auspices. These leaders keep our good in view by maintaining social order and our welfare.

The state itself is not good but its function to provide order, justice and peace is beneficial for society. We are not to think of government as infallible in its pronouncements. Yet this does not mean the individual can negate the state’s decisions unilaterally if its decisions are not to his liking.

But if you do evil, be afraid;

“Evil” here is law breaking. Those who break the law need to fear the state. The individual does not have the right to take the law into his own hands. The biblical principle is that government, which is a collection of justice instruments, has more objective processes than the individual has for order in society.

The purpose of government is twofold:

To protect the good.

To punish law-breakers

for he does not bear the sword in vain [for no purpose];

The “sword” is a symbol of police power delegated to government by God. The state will use its police force against law-breakers. The government has the power of life and death from God. The “sword” here is not exclusively the death penalty, but it definitely includes authority for capital punishment. The state has the right to judicial function.

Ge 9:6, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man.

Those who take the life of another should also be dispossessed of their lives. It is the proper role of government to inflict judgment and penalty.

for he is God’s minister,

For the second time God calls the state His “minister.” This is added for emphasis.

an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.

The state will execute justice on those who break the law; it is God’s servant in achieving both justice and civil order. The issue here is forcible restraint of evil by government. The individual Christian does not have the authority to use physical force to deal with his enemies (Ro 12:17, 19).


Coercive power from government is a social necessity determined by God.


When society denies capital punishment for first-degree murder, it stands guilty before God (Ge 4:10). Satan is a murderer (Jn 8:44). Capital punishment is clearly a biblical principle (Ge 9:6; Nu 35:33). If a government does not follow this principle, it is a failure of biblical justice (Ezek 7:23-24).

Today God does not rule through a theocracy like He did with the nation Israel. Since Israel rejected her Messiah King, God turned to dealing with all national entities to provide for social order. If individuals were to take law into their own hands, this would create anarchy. That is why God uses the collective will of the people through national entities to provide for order in society.

God’s gift to the state to exercise police power is not unlimited. Legitimate use of that power is always within the scope of biblical principles. The state cannot exercise its authority any way it wants; it has no right to slaughter its citizens capriciously. God does not give the state the right to force its citizens to do evil, such as aborting babies.

To the contrary, it is the state’s responsibility to do “good” (vv. 3-4). The state’s role is to defend its citizens from without the national entity and from within; it has both military and police power from God’s viewpoint. The government is to be just in all its dealings according to the standards of biblical justice.


The Biblical Doctrine of the State: